Friday, April 1, 2011

Demystifying Genre

Free-form Friday

In a recent episode of The Appendix, a writing podcast, Robison Wells, Sarah Eden, and Marion Jensen discussed choosing a genre.

Marion Jensen said, "When you pick a genre, you've got to pick something  that you like. It's kind of like picking a career."

That's right, writers. No pressure. Just like the end of high school when well-meaning people like guidance counselors and parents say, "Now that you've spent your life listening to us tell you what to do, it's time for you to make a decision, oh and by the way, this decision will have life-long consequences."

Choosing the genre in which you'll write is a critical decision only if you succeed.

Why?

Because with each book you publish you create precedents and build expectations among your growing circle of readers. It's not that you can never try anything different, but imagine the hue and cry if J. K. Rowling decided she wanted to write gritty detective stories full of graphic sex and violence.

The advice about picking a genre is better understood in terms of setting up shop someplace where you're comfortable because you could be spending a lot of time there.

One of the reasons this seems like a big deal is because genre is to kind as veal is to beef. This is another in a long series of cases where we have two words in English with the same meaning, but the Latinate, or more specifically French, version sounds more sophisticated.

Repeat after me, "Genre means kind." It's nothing more or less complicated than deciding what kind of books your book ought to be shelved or grouped with.

And why does that matter?

Because you're hoping to take advantage of recommendation engines, whether human or automatic, that will suggest someone might like your book if they liked something similar.

Put another way, in terms of publishing being a market, genre is shorthand for your audience.

That's why you must decide on your genre: you must know your audience and their expectations.


Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net